With an increasing number of sites expressing their frustration towards conventional ATP tests, we wanted to take a closer look at a new and improved methodology: the A3 system. To ensure the information provided is as relevant as possible, we decided to focus on Hygiene Monitoring in High Care Environments, as this is an area where ATP testing is especially limited.

This topic was the inspiration behind a recent Klipspringer webinar.

During this webinar, Klipspringer Director Alex Carlyon was joined by our in-house A3 Specialist Radek Tameczka and Cleaning Verification Specialist Dr Stephan Speidel. The panel covered the four key areas listed below, and also answered a series of pertinent questions.

You can watch a full recording of the webinar below

Alternatively, you can scroll down to read our key takeaways, using the navigation buttons to skip straight to the section most relevant to your needs… 

Cleaning Verification in High Care Environments

Audit compliance is one of the key reasons for effective cleaning verification. With this in mind, Alex shared one of the most relevant clauses from Version 9 of the BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard.As you can see, Clause 8.5.2 isn’t specific about the approach to hygiene monitoring that needs to be in place. Instead, it is left up to the site to determine the risk level and to establish a suitable strategy. 

Source: BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard Version 9​

When providing a brief definition of High Care Environments, Alex turned again to Version 9 of the BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard. ​According to the Standard, products that require handling within a High Care Environment should meet the following criteria:

Source: BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard Version 9​

The key takeaway from this definition is that the products in question have undergone a process before entry into the area, but are still vulnerable to the growth and survival of pathogens. The next section of this Webinar will help to explain why these factors can seriously undermine the accuracy of conventional ATP testing. In fact, it is High Care Environments that typically see the least reliable performance of ATP monitoring. 

Exploring A3 Hygiene Validation

ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is a molecule found in all living cells. This is why so many sites turn to conventional ATP testing when they are trying to detect organic residue on a surface.

However, ATP is an unstable molecule that degrades to ADP and AMP during common processes such as cooking, fermentation, blanching, and cleaning. At this point, conventional ATP tests will often generate a pass result, detecting only low levels of ATP. This is a serious concern, as there will still be organic residue present in the form of ADP and AMP.

To address the limitations of conventional ATP testing, the A3 system introduces recycled enzymes to detect all three forms of the adenosine molecule: ATP + ADP + AMP. This is especially important for High Care Environments that often handle products where ATP levels have been greatly reduced through processes such as cooking.

Below are a series of graphs that compare readings generated by the A3 system to three of the most popular ATP testing methods. As you can see, the RLU values differ dramatically. Depending on the pass/fail limits of each site, it is likely that the ATP results would be considered pass results, with only the A3 system accurately detecting the real amount of organic residue.

Radek Tameczka, our in-house A3 expert, carried out a series of additional tests in preparation for this webinar:

Below you can see the results of these tests and the clear difference between the readings generated by the A3 system and conventional ATP testing:

Product

The A3 System

Conventional ATP Test

Cooked Ham

305,811 RLU

21 RLU

Peanuts (Allergen)

6,641 RLU

48 RLU

Soy Sauce (Allergen)

1,755 RLU

61 RLU

Considerations when implementing the A3 System

Typically, sites will focus on six key factors when considering the switch to the A3 system:

  • Referential benchmarks​​
  • Increased sensitivity
  • Ease-of-use and training 
  • Recording results
  • Audit documentation
  • Cost of implementation 

First, let’s address the subject of Referential Benchmarks. The benchmark RLU value depends on:

  • The condition of the surface being tested
  • The type of ingredients/materials coming into contact with the surface
  • The risk management level of the area

For the most effective benchmark values, we recommend validating all testing points, as this is the best way to ensure any benchmarks relate to your site’s specific cleaning methods and acceptance criteria. This something our Technical Support Team can help you with. 

In the meantime, below is an example of Referential Benchmarks for Hygiene Monitoring practice:​​

Test Point

Pass Rate

Fail Rate

Stainless steel surface with direct food contact (HIGH risk)

100

200

Conveyor belt

250

500

Transportation container, temporary packaging and IBC (HIGH risk)

500

1000

Processing equipment

500

1000

As you work through this process, you can establish a plan for any areas where the heightened sensitivity of the A3 system is failing surfaces that previously passed ATP tests. Although the prospect of an initial round of failed tests can be intimidating, a more accurate system will help to eliminate confusion, time wastage, food safety risks, and false positives. ​

Next, let’s discuss ease-of-use and training. At least in terms of appearance and the way you take your samples, the A3 system is very similar to ATP tests. First, you use either a surface swab, premoistened swab, or water swab to take a sample, then you open the lid of the device, insert the swab, close the lid and wait around ten seconds for a reading.

This simplicity should make it easy for your operatives to understand the system without the need for extensive training. However, if you do require any training resources, this is another area where Klipspringer can offer support. We can also handle repairs and calibrations, with a quick turnaround and loan units that can be delivered to your site within 24 hours.​​

Now, let’s discuss what happens to the results of the A3 system.The system works with easy-to-use software that allows you to store, evaluate and share data between users. Any readings can be updated in real time for positive release. This will prove invaluable when it comes to audit documentation, as an auditor will be able to see evidence of all your testing, with overall inspection scores available as easy-to-read graphs. ​​

Finally, let’s address any concerns surrounding cost. Although it involves a more advanced technology, the A3 system actually sits around the price point of conventional ATP tests. Due to its heightened sensitivity, the system could also help your site to reduce the frequency of external testing or expensive in-house allergen-specific tests. The savings you could make in this area should be considered when assessing the cost to your site.

Real-world insights: McCain Foods

McCain Foods decided to undergo an A3 trial for two key reasons:

1. Its Scarborough site was undertaking a major allergen validation exercise. The company is increasingly moving towards a series of gluten-free products, so an effective approach to Hygiene Monitoring was deemed more important than ever.

2. An interim technical person working at the Scarborough site identified a series of confusing results from conventional ATP tests – they indicated that a blanched potato didn’t contain any ATP and passed surfaces that were failing visual checks.

Nigel Church, the site’s Hygiene Manager, identified four key outcomes of the A3 trial:

1. The A3 methodology explained confusing results. Instead of the system passing a blanched potato or a surface that was visibly unclean, it was able to detect the presence of ADP and AMP. This allowed McCain Foods to update its cleaning regime to support the elimination of all organic residue, not just ATP.

2. Another benefit included a reduced requirement for allergen swabbing, with this leading to an overall reduction in cost. Although neither the ATP nor the more sensitive A3 system tests directly for allergens, the accurate detection of organic residue has the potential to reduce a site’s need for allergen testing, as if there is no more organic residue on a surface, it follows that there is nothing left to contaminate an allergen-free product.

Over the six-to-eight-month trial period, McCain Foods discovered that if a surface passed an A3 test it would go on to pass a gluten swab and then an ELISA test. In fact, during this period, McCain Foods didn’t have a single allergen fail following an A3 swab pass. This gave the trial sites the confidence to reduce the amount of allergen swabbing and ELISA testing carried out. 

3. The introduction of the A3 system also meant McCain Foods no longer had to deal with False Positive readings. Prior to the A3 trial, the unreliable ATP system would often generate extremely high readings even if a surface had been thoroughly cleaned. The results of these failed tests wouldn’t just be slightly high, they would involve RLU value that couldn’t possibly be correct.In contrast, the A3 system offered increased reliability across a wide range of testing environments.

4. Finally, McCain Foods was impressed by how easy it is to use the A3 system. Most of the other units they explored had some sort of menu process that you had to go through just to get a reading. As you saw during the demonstration, the A3 system only requires you to lift the lid and push the swab in before it generates a reading in around ten seconds.

Q&A

What are the benefits for Low Risk Environments? 

Although this webinar has focused on High Care Environments due to a growing sense of frustration in this area of the industry, the A3 system would offer the same benefits to a Low Risk Environment.  

How does a site establish its pass/fail criteria? Also, due to the system being more sensitive, most of our tests will be a fail at first. This will result in re-cleans which will waste water, time, and money. Is the system worth this?

This is a really common question and is usually one of the first to come up when a site considers the A3 system.

During the roll out of the A3 system, and especially during the Validation Process, our in-house Technical Team will provide ongoing support. Our goal is to make it so that once you have identified the areas where organic residue has been going undetected by the ATP tests, you can adjust your process and be confident in a pass result moving forward.

The heightened sensitivity of the A3 system should actually save you water, time, effort, and money in the long run, as it allows you to get a clear picture of what’s happening at your site. Instead of guesswork and confusing results, you will know in ten seconds whether a surface is clean and ready to use.

Do you know any sites that have validated the A3 system against normal environmental swabbing and managed a reduction in their schedule because of it?

During the Validation Process, we ask sites to include as many tests as possible. This makes it easier to determine what role the A3 system can play at your site – identifying tests that it could reduce the need for, replace entirely, or offer support with.

If your site is required to carry out certain tests, the A3 system should not be used to replace them, as of course you need to work in accordance to your customer expectations or auditing body.

However, what we have seen time and time again, is that if a surface passes an A3 test, it is extremely likely to pass any following tests.

Does the A3 system tell you the different ratios of ATP, ADP, and AMP?

The A3 system doesn’t provide separate readings or ratios for the amount of ATP, ADP, and AMP present on a surface. This is because the unique, patented enzyme in the swabs actually converts ADP and AMP back to ATP before it generates a reading. The success of the technology is due to the fact that it is the only system to detect all three adenosine molecules at once. Risk levels are determined by the possibility of new bacteria growth and you need to detect all three adenosine molecules to find this out.

What is the expected calibration frequency and is it possible to get a loan unit of the A3 system while our site’s unit is being calibrated?

We recommend recalibration on an annual basis. We haven’t noticed any drifts in terms of readings, so we have confidence in this time scale. It is also the recommendation provided by the manufacturer.

We are able to complete the recalibration at the Klipspringer Laboratory, so the process should be extremely straight forward. This normally takes 2-3 working days. During this time, we will be able to supply you with a loan unit.

It is also worth noting that the A3 system features an electronic control that lets you know whether or not the instrument is working correctly. The recommendation of an annual calibration comes from ISO requirements. However, in countries that operate outside of these requirements, we have seen sites using A3 systems that haven’t been calibrated for over ten years, but are still working perfectly. This makes it extremely likely that your system will pass. If you are at all unsure, there is also the option of activating the ‘self-check’ function of your unit and using an LED control swab to verify the instrument on-site.

How would the A3 system work in an environment that uses microbiomes? 

The A3 system is not able to distinguish between different types of bacteria. However, it can tell you how much organic residue is present on a surface. Consequently, if you are dealing with a single strain of bacteria, you could always correlate the RLU reading generated by the A3 system to the Colony Forming Unit (CFU). However, if your microbiome is a mixture of bacteria, you will be able to say how much or how little is present, as opposed to finding out how well the microbiome is performing.

How does the system support validation?

Our in-house Technical Support Team will guide you through the Validation Process, helping you to establish Referential Benchmarks. At the end of the Validation Process, we produce a document that confirms the process has taken place and explains the pass/fail limits. Both the process and the document should make it easy for your auditor to understand the thought process behind your Validation and the decisions you have made following it.

If your site is switching from the ATP system to the A3 system, we typically include the results of the ATP on the Validation Document. This allows auditors to clearly understand why the A3 system is the more accurate and reliable choice, along with why the established benchmarks are in place. They will be able to see that with the benchmarks, the surface would easily pass an ATP test, but due to your site’s commitment to accurate and thorough validation, you have ensured your surfaces also pass the more sensitive A3 system.

Does the A3 system have AOAC approval?

Yes, the A3 system, along with the surface swabs, premoistened swabs, and water swabs have AOAC approval.

If there is a customer requirement to carry out environmental swabbing, could the A3 system qualify?

The A3 system tests for organic contamination, this includes degraded bacteria and food residue. In contrast, environmental swabbing detects living bacteria. Consequently, the correlation between the two forms of testing are fairly low.

However, food residue is a breeding ground for a new generation of bacteria. This means that the ability to accurately detect this residue can inform and support your environmental testing. If a surface passes an A3 test and is not contaminated with a high level of organic residue, it follows that it is likely to pass any environmental swab tests.

The two systems compliment each other because environmental swabbing usually takes time to generate results, whereas the A3 system produces a reading in around ten seconds. So, the A3 system could be used, as you wait for the results of your environmental swabbing, to predict the results of these tests.

Are there any resources available relating to the typical results generated by the A3 system?

There are a number of Blogs, Case Studies, and Webinars relating to the A3 system in the Klipspringer Content Hub. A lot of these resources take a closer look at the typical results generated by the A3 system, offering in depth comparisons of the system to different Hygiene Monitoring methodologies.

Our in-house Technical Support Team will also be on hand to help with your enquiries, you can contact us on 01473 461800 or sales@klipspringer.com. Or, you can contact Radek directly at radek.tameczka@klipspringer.com.

It is also worth noting that as our Technical Team works with you on establishing the Referential Benchmarks for your site, we will often draw on real-life data generated by the A3 system.

How long has the A3 system been in use?

The A3 system has been around since 2017. We expect to see an increased number of sites switching to this methodology, especially as auditing bodies and standards become more aware of the limitations of conventional ATP tests.

So that brings us to the end of our webinar on ATP Monitoring and the more effective A3 system.

If you have any further questions, you can reach out to Radek at radek.tameczka@klipspringer.com or contact the Klipspringer team on 01473 461800 and sales@klipspringer.com